By Keith Brookman
By the time you all read this, I’m sure that it will have sunk in that, after scoring seven goals on the seventh of May, Bristol Rovers have been promoted to League One six years to the day they last achieved that feat!
In addition, it was the club’s seventh promotion and this article takes a brief trip back in time to look at them all and seeing how prominent the number seven has been!
The first ever promotion achieved by the club came at the end of the 1952/53 season when they finished as Champions of the Third Division (South), thus elevating themselves to the Second Division. Back then it was the equivalent of moving from League One to the Championship.
They had led the table for seven months in succession and set off on a 27 match unbeaten record in the league that began with a 3-1 win against Colchester United on September 11th 1952 and ended with a 2-0 defeat at Reading on March 21st 1953. Incidentally, there was a 7-0 win, against Brighton & Hove Albion, in that long unbeaten run.
Promotion, and the title, was clinched with two games to go thanks to Geoff Bradford’s hat trick in a 3-1 win against Newport County on April 25th 1953, a game that was watched by an Eastville crowd of 29,451.
The matchday programme carried a tribute to Director Lewis Champeney who had been killed in a car crash four days before the match, and both teams wore black armbands in memory of his wife, Mrs Kate Champeney, who passed away on the morning of the game from injuries sustained in the same incident.
Bradford, who had only been passed fit thirty minutes before kick off, scored the opening goal in the first minute of the game when he scored from close range following good work by Bill Roost and Josser Watling.
The visitors equalised in the 31st minute when Wharton crossed from the left and goalkeeper Bob Anderson was impeded as he attempted to gather, and the ball fell to Beattie who drove the ball home.
Bradford restored the lead for Rovers five minutes before half time when he reached Jackie Pitt’s free kick and headed past goalkeeper Fearnley.
Newport were reduced to ten men on 62 minutes when Fearnley collided with Bradford and fractured his collar bone. There were no substitutes back then, so right winger Birch took over in goal and he was beaten three minutes later as Bradford completed his hat trick when heading home from a George Petherbridge cross. It was the striker’s 34th league goal of the campaign.
The win left Rovers on 63 points with games against Aldershot and Crystal Palace to follow, while second placed Northampton were two points behind with one game left. However, they would have needed to win that game by 30-0 to leave them with a better goal average than Rovers, so the title would come to Eastville.
Rovers gained just one more point, from a goalless draw at Aldershot, but lost their last game 1-0 at Crystal Palace.
Manager Bert Tann said afterwards; ‘I would like to join the Chairman in thanking the players for the skill and determination with which they have played this season. Perhaps we have not always been the most popular side, but at least we have always done our best and we are thankful that we have been able to bring the season to a successful conclusion.’
For the record, Rovers won 26 of their 46 league games, drew 12 and lost eight, scoring 92 goals and conceding 45.
No fewer than six players appeared in every league game and they were; Harry Bamford, Geoff Fox, Jackie Pitt, Ray Warren, Peter Sampson and Vic Lambden. Geoff Bradford missed just one game, while Andrew Micklewright made only one league appearance.
In all, Rovers used 18 players over the course of the season four of whom made their league debuts, namely Paddy Leonard, John McIlvenny, Desmond Jones and Bob Anderson.
The average league attendance at Eastville that season was 23,411.
Following that initial promotion Rovers remained in the second tier of English football until the end of the 1961/62 season. During their stay at that level they came tantalisingly close to being promoted to the First Division, finishing 6th on two occasions, in 1955/56 and again in 1958/59.
Relegation condemned them to the Third Division, which was to be their ‘home’ until the 1973/74 campaign.